About the Author: Warren Hierl taught Advanced Placement U.S. History for twenty-eight years. He has conducted 250+ AP US History workshops for teachers. He was a member of the committee that wrote the original Advanced Placement Social Studies Vertical Teams Guide and the Advanced Placement U.S. History Teachers Guide. He has been a reader, a table leader, and, for the past eight years, the question leader on the DBQ at the AP U.S. History reading.
In other words- Mr. Hierl grades the essays you will write for the APUSH exam.
The Platt Amendment
The Platt Amendment was an attachment to a military appropriations bill in 1901 and reflected growing U.S. concern over the stability of Cuba following its independence from Spain after the Spanish-American War. The amendment placed restrictions on the Cuban government and was clearly designed to give the U.S. expanded control over the island, short of annexation.
I Dream of… Cuba
Cuba had long been of interest to the United States and several attempts had been made during the nineteenth century to purchase the island from Spain. Most notable was the Ostend Manifesto of 1854 which attempted to justify the right of the United States to annex Cuba by force if Spain refused to sell the island for between 100 million and 130 million dollars. It was also the site of several filibustering operations (private attempts to gain control of foreign territory) in the period prior to the Civil War. Cuba’s key geographic position 90 miles off the U.S. coast led James G. Blaine, in 1881 to say that, should Cuba become independent, it should become American rather than fall into European hands.
Cuba had long been of interest to the United States.
When Congress considered a declaration of war against Spain in 1898 there was serious concern that declaration might be viewed by the nations of the world as a blatant land-grabbing effort rather than as an altruistic attempt to aid the cause of the Cuban independence and eliminate humanitarian suffering that existed under Spanish rule. Powerful sugar interests in the United States also opposed annexation because Cuban sugar might then enter the U.S. duty-free, threatening the economic interests of U.S. sugar producers.
There was also considerable anti-imperialist sentiment which might injure Republican chances of continued control in the congressional elections of 1898 and the presidential election of 1900. Also, the fact that in annexing Cuba would saddle the United States with Cuba’s $400 million debt tended to dissuade the U.S. from the annexation route. As a result, the Teller Amendment, vowing that the United States would guarantee Cuban independence if the U.S. won the war, was added as a self-denial of imperialistic tendencies elevating the conflict to a moral cause.
The U.S. did not want the Spanish-American War to be seen as an imperialistic land grab for Cuba.
A Splendid Little War
The Spanish-American War (“his splendid little war” as Secretary of State John Hay referred to it) was easily won by the United States. The Treaty of Paris (which ended the war) granted Cuba their independence but established no timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the island.
The Treaty of Paris granted Cuba their independence but established no timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the island.
Platting an Amendment
Due to civil unrest and the fear that foreign influence might become prominent in Cuba, Congress enacted the Platt Amendment as an attachment to a military appropriations bill. The amendment was designed to increase U.S. control over the island in order to protect U.S. interests in the Caribbean, including a potential isthmian canal. Under heavy U.S. pressure, the Cuba government incorporated the Platt Amendment into its constitution. The Platt Amendment consisted of five specific requirements from Cuba.
- Cuba was not permitted to enter into any treaty compromising her independence or allowing foreign governments to establish military bases there. This possibility was viewed as a threat to United States’ security because of the proximity of the island to the U.S.
- Cuba had to agree not to enter into debt beyond their means to pay. The United States feared that the incurring of debt might justify foreign intervention and threaten Cuban sovereignty.
- Cuba must give the United States the authority to internally intervene in Cuban affairs to preserve order and Cuban independence. Ultimately this would morph into the Roosevelt Corollary which contended that the United States had the right to intervene, “however reluctantly,” in the internal affairs of Western Hemisphere countries to preserve stability.
- Cuba must accept a U.S. sponsored sanitation program aimed particularly at wiping out yellow fever. Yellow fever had significantly impacted U.S. troops during the Spanish-American War and the work of Dr. Walter Reed and others in Cuba would substantially increase the ability to control the disease and subsequently open the way for the completion of the Panama Canal.
- Cuba must agree to perpetually lease or sell the United States a base for the U.S. Navy and coaling stations. This final provision was reflective of the U.S. desire to be in a position to rapidly respond to unrest in Cuba or elsewhere in the region.
Clearly, the Platt Amendment compromised the sovereignty of the Cuban government.
Is Cuba Sovereign?
Clearly, the Platt Amendment compromised the sovereignty of the Cuban government. In 1906, frustrated by unrest, in Cuba Roosevelt wrote, “Just at the moment I am so angry with that infernal little Cuban republic that I would like to see its people wiped off the face of the earth.” In this instance, the United States used the Platt Amendment to justify sending troops to Cuba in 1906 and keeping them there until 1909.
In a larger sense, the Platt Amendment was largely a reflection of a significant change in U.S. foreign policy. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the U.S., at the urging of “big navy” men such as Alfred Thayer Mahan, believed the U.S. should take its place among the great powers of the world. This would require the construction of an expanded modern navy that would elevate the ability of the United States to protect its growing commercial interests around the world. While the Teller Amendment prohibited the U.S. annexation of Cuba, it didn’t prevent the United States from acquiring the other spoils of the Spanish-American War such as the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam and those possessions required naval protection.
In a larger sense, the Platt Amendment was largely a reflection of a significant change in U.S. foreign policy.
Open Door and Dollar Diplomacy
Prior to the Platt Amendment, the United States had already increased its influence in Asia through the Open Door Policy and participation in the suppression of the Boxer Rebellion in China. With the emergence of Theodore Roosevelt as president, the jingoistic “big stick” policy became the order of the day. The Roosevelt Corollary expanded elements of the Platt Amendment and claimed for the United States the role of “policeman” (the right to intervene in the internal affairs of nations to maintain stability) of the entire Western Hemisphere.
The Roosevelt Corollary expanded elements of the Platt Amendment and claimed for the United States the role of “policeman”
Even after the presidency of Roosevelt, William Howard Taft instituted a policy of “dollar diplomacy” aimed at creating an economic environment in which investment by U.S. companies was so substantial that it could influence the internal politics of nations. Implicitly, challenges to those investments might initiate a U.S. military response. It became clear that the United States, while wishing to exercise control over Latin American nations, was not interested in annexation of those countries. As Roosevelt said of the Dominican Republic as early as 1904 when the United States took over customs collections, “I have about as much desire to annex it as a gorged boa constrictor might have to swallow a porcupine wrong-end-to.”
William Howard Taft instituted a policy of “dollar diplomacy” aimed at creating an economic environment in which investment by U.S. companies was so substantial that it could influence the internal politics of nations.
However, not until the Montevideo Convention in 1933 did the United State formally renounce its right to intervene in the internal affairs of nations of the Western Hemisphere, ushering in the “good neighbor” policy.
In some ways, the Platt Amendment seemed to reflect a desire that the Teller Amendment had not been enacted and that Cuba should have become U.S. territory. For the United States, the positive benefits of the Platt Amendment were clearly evident: yellow fever was controlled, the Panama Canal was successfully completed, the European countries failed to gain a foothold in Cuba (at least until the 1960s), and there was a perpetual lease on the naval base at Guantanamo Bay which provided a military presence in the region and bolstered the U.S. position for the defense of the Panama Canal.